Can You Get Free Ivy League Tuition?

Some families can get free ivy league tuition.  This isn’t as widely known as it should be.  Ivy league schools, and many of the other “top tier” colleges, have huge endowments and offer excellent financial aid programs.

First, let me be clear:

Ivy League schools do not offer merit scholarships.  All aid at Ivy League schools is need-based aid.

It is important to know that these schools offer a lot more need-based aid than the typical college.  Families who would not qualify for need-based aid from their state school or from a less competitive college may qualify for need-based aid from a top tier school with a large endowment.

In my post, Best Colleges for Need-Based Financial Aid, I covered the 66 colleges that pledge to meet 100% of a family’s need.  35 of these colleges offer some merit-based aid, but the other 31 do not.

I spoke recently to a mom whose son got a full ride to Harvard.  As we discussed this, I even forgot the rule that ivy league schools do not offer merit scholarships.  I was thinking that he must have been an exceptional student to qualify for a scholarship at Harvard.  Then I remembered we weren’t talking about merit scholarships.  But then I came back to the fact that he really did have to be an exceptional student to qualify for a full ride to Harvard.  It isn’t like any student with demonstrated financial need can get full tuition or a full ride to an ivy league school.  There is this huge hurdle standing between every student and a free Ivy League education – first, you have to get admitted.

How To Get Free Tuition or a Full Ride To An Ivy League School

  1. Your student has to meet the admissions standards and be one of the few selected for admission.  The acceptance rate at these schools is shockingly low.  For Fall 2016 admissions, Harvard’s overall acceptance rate was 5.9%.  That means over 94% of the students who applied were not accepted.  Harvard had the lowest acceptance rate of the Ivy League.  34,285 applications were received and 2,032 students were accepted.  If your student does not fall at or above the mid-50% range for the school for ACT and/or SAT scores and GPA, it’s probably not even worth applying.
  2. Your student should apply for the Early Decision or Early Action deadline.  Here is a graph that shows that a much higher percentage of applicants are accepted through Early Decision/Early Action than through Regular Decision (click the link and scroll down a bit on the page that opens).
  3. Your family has to qualify for need-based aid according to the school’s own calculation.  Most of the ivy league schools use either the CSS Profile or their own institutional financial aid calculation, although you also still need to submit the FAFSA.  The CSS Profile is more invasive than FAFSA, trying to assess your family’s complete financial picture.  It is used by more selective schools that usually have more money to award and want to award it to the right families.  Therefore, assets play a larger role.
  4. Don’t have assets that are disproportionately high for your income level.  When you look at the school’s websites, you will often see a household income amount listed that says families making this amount or less will receive free tuition.  There is usually a disclaimer that indicates that is true unless you have a large amount of assets.

The Harvard Example

Harvard indicates on its financial aid website that families with incomes below $65,000 are not expected to contribute towards the cost of college.  The site also indicates this is 20% of the students at Harvard.

Families with incomes between $65,000 – $150,000 will contribute from 0-10% of their income towards the cost.  This would mean that a typical family making $150,000, without unusually large assets, would contribute up to $15,000 per year towards the over $63,000 cost for tuition plus room and board.

Many of the other ivy league schools and other top-tier universities have this type of information available on their websites.  I am working on compiling a list of all of these to make available to families who are interested in pursuing this type of school if they can qualify for financial aid.

Here are just a few other examples:

  • Stanford offers free tuition to families with incomes up to $125,000 per year
  • Dartmouth offers free tuition to families with incomes up to $100,000 per year and “typical” assets
  • MIT offers free tuition to families making up to $75,000 per year
  • Princeton offers free tuition for families making up to $120,000 per year

Of course, first, your student has to be accepted.  All of these schools had acceptance rates below 10% last year!

Posted in Financial Aid, Paying for College
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  1. […] week, I wrote about who gets free tuition to an Ivy League school in Can You Get Free Ivy League Tuition?  This week, in keeping with the same topic, I want to share some insight from a parent whose son […]